February 12, 20161234567RHE
Win: WONDERLY (1-0) 7.051133
Loss: PICO (0-1) 2.232221
PICO (VALPO) 301000
Crusaders Drop Season Opener to Illinois
Friday, February 12, 2016
Crusaders Drop Season Opener to Illinois
Kaitlyn Ranieri broke Valpo's career walks record on Friday.

The Valparaiso University softball team opened the 2016 campaign Friday evening at the Juiceblendz FIU Invitational in Miami, Fla., but was unable to come out victorious, as the Crusaders fell to Illinois by a 6-1 final. Senior Kaitlyn Ranieri (Schererville, Ind./Lake Central) drew three walks in the opener, the first of which made her Valpo’s all-time career leader in the category.

“Miami is one of the nicest places in the country that we could start the season,” said Crusader head coach Kate Stake. “The weather's perfect, and we’re playing on a really nice field. It’s definitely nice to get out under the sun and then under the stars to play, rather than practicing under a ceiling.”

Ranieri tied Sara Strickland’s program record for career walks in last season’s Horizon League Championship, and wasted no time drawing the record-breaker as her senior season began, working a full-count walk in the first inning. Ranieri would end up reached on three occasions via base on balls on Friday, giving her 101 career walks.

Valpo had opportunities to put runs on the board throughout Friday’s season opener, putting a runner in scoring position in five of seven times at bat. But the Crusaders would go just 1-of-7 on the day with runners in scoring position, as compared to Illinois’ 5-of-14 mark with RISP.

“We’ve been hitting well all fall and all this winter in practice, so I think we just had a bit of difficulty adjusting to a pitcher today who we haven't seen every week,” said Stake. “We had a number of swings and misses today, which is uncharacteristic of our hitters. I felt like we might have been a bit jittery, pressing a bit, but hopefully we’ll settle in tomorrow – I still think our offense is a very bright point of our team.”

Illinois struck first on Friday, scoring in the bottom of the third inning on a two-run double from Nicole Evans. The Crusaders responded in the top of the fourth, as after Ranieri led off with a walk, sophomore Taylor Nadler (New Haven, Mo./St. Francis Borgia) replaced her on a fielder’s choice and eventually scored on a two-out single by junior Sam Stewart (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) to cut the lead in half.

The Illini got the run back in their half of the fourth, however, as Carly Thomas delivered a two-out run-scoring triple to push the lead back to 3-1. Valpo had a chance to make headway once again in the fifth, loading the bases with two outs on a single, an error and a walk, but a foul-out would keep the Crusaders off the board. Illinois would cap the scoring with three runs in the bottom of the fifth, and Valpo remained stuck on one run despite a two-out double in the sixth and putting runners on first and second with nobody out in the seventh.

Five different Crusaders accounted for Valpo’s five hits on Friday, as no Crusader other than Ranieri reached base more than once. Three different pitchers saw action in the circle, with senior Sierra Pico (Las Vegas, Nev./Legacy) earning the start and taking the loss in 2.2 innings of work. Emily Brodner and Alyssa Gunther tallied two hits apiece for Illinois (1-1), while Breanna Wonderly recorded the complete-game win.

Valparaiso (0-1) returns to action from Miami with a pair of games on Saturday, as the Crusaders take on LIU Brooklyn at 8 a.m. CT and St. John’s at 2 p.m. Live stats for both games will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.